International Judicial Monitor
Published by the American Society of International Law and the International Judicial Academy
April 2008 Issue






Global Judicial Dialogue



Charles R. Simpson IIIby Charles R. Simpson III
United States District Judge
Western District of Kentucky

Judges in many foreign countries thirst for knowledge and information on how their own courts can be improved, especially those that have challenged justice systems. Assistance in meeting such needs can come in many forms, but simple judge-to-judge contact can often be the most valuable. Judges speak the same language to each other, even if they come from vastly different legal systems, traditions, and cultures.

Exchange programs such as those offered by the Library of Congress’ Open World Rule of Law Program provide opportunities for foreign judges to visit the United States to see our state or federal courts. Another exchange program that falls under the aegis of the Russian American Rule of Law Consortium (RAROLC) allows visitors to experience the legal and social culture of a city or town as well as observe court proceedings, trials, and case management techniques firsthand.

The results of these exchange programs can be highly meaningful and informative for both the host judges and their judicial visitors, especially if the visitors have never left their own country or have never been to the United States. Delegations generally visit for only one week, so host judges in the United States seeking to maintain contact with their visitors have increasingly turned to the establishment of sister-court relations as a way of formalizing the judge-to-judge ties developed from these international exchanges.

There are many benefits with sister-court relationships. Judges can continue their dialog, usually by email and can often act as resources for each other. Through sister-court relationships, lessons and experiences of international visits are extended and solidified resulting in greater cross-border understanding.

Sister-court relationships have been established between courts in St. Petersburg, Florida and St. Petersburg, Russia; St. Paul, Minnesota and Novosibirsk, Russia; Seattle, Washington and Primorskii Oblast, Russia; Nashville, Tennessee and Zagreb, Croatia; and Springfield, Illinois and Vladimir, Russia. Beginning in 2007, the Open World program also began expanding its exchange program into countries like Moldova, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan. While judicial exchanges from these countries are in their infancy, it is anticipated that the number of judicial delegations from these countries will increase, resulting in more sister-court relationships.

My own court, the United States District Court for the Western District of Kentucky, was at the forefront of this phenomenon. In 1998, when I was Chief Judge, our court hosted a delegation of judges from Croatia who visited under the auspices of the American Bar Association. Their one-week visit to Louisville was a whirlwind of activity, and our visitors learned a great deal about both the federal courts and the Kentucky state courts. While in Louisville, the Croatian judicial visitors visited federal and state courts, the Louisville Bar Association, the local FBI and Federal Prosecutors’ offices, a law firm, and the University of Louisville School of Law. They took a cruise on the Ohio River on an attorney’s boat, and even participated in a ceremony establishing a sister-bar relationship between the lawyers of Louisville and the city of Pula in Croatia.

We kept in contact with our visitors after their return to Croatia, and our discussions led to the notion that we should somehow formalize our relationship. One member of the Croatian delegation was from Istria, an arrowhead-shaped part of western Croatia close to the Adriatic Sea and not far from Italy. It was agreed that my court would enter into a sister-court agreement with the County Court of Pula, Croatia. In 2000, we formalized our relationship by signing and exchanging our charters, making it the first sister-court relationship ever established by a federal court in the United States.

Our sister-court relationship with the County Court of Pula still endures till this day, so it is not only the first federal sister-court relationship but it also the longest running one. Our relationship, however, has endured many strains and stresses. It has been, especially difficult to find funding for continuing our contacts, but we have managed through assistance from the Louisville Bar Association and the Federal Bar Association.

The judge, who was President of our sister court when the formal agreements were signed, subsequently got into political trouble. He was demoted from his position as president of our sister court, and ultimately removed from the judiciary altogether. A new court president was appointed, and we began our relationship-building all over again. Fortunately, the judge who replaced the first judge was also forward thinking. He was recently appointed by the Croatian Legislature to a position on the Constitutional Court of Croatia, so we will soon have another sister-court President with whom to deal. However, we trust that he or she will also be committed to the relationship.

The sister-court relationship of the Western District of Kentucky is but one example of how contact between judges and courts from markedly different legal systems and traditions can nevertheless result in mutually beneficial dialogue and learning. Overall the establishment of sister-court relationships assists judges in their quest to enhance the rule of law in their home countries.

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© 2008 – The American Society of International Law and International Judicial Academy.

Editors: James G. Apple, Veronica Onorevole and Andrew Solomon.
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